Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Worm's-Eye View of What Ails Cincinnati

Yesterday we enjoyed a fine lunchtime conversation with an alumnus of our institution of higher learning who is experiencing firsthand a major reason why people are leaving Cincinnati.

This fine gentleman and his fine wife are engaged in a very productive ministry in one of Cincinnati's worst neighborhoods. They currently rent an apartment in that neighborhood but would like to buy and renovate a house that is currently vacant.

You'd think that would be easy, right? The building's owners, lenders and the city government should be falling all over themselves to get committed homeowners back into bad places.

Well, no. My friends have been trying for months to buy the house. They can't. And it's not because they can't put up a down payment or get a loan. It's because no one will sell them a vacant, run-down house that no one else will buy.

As we understand it, first the house was tied up in foreclosure. Then after the sheriff's auction, it was still somehow in the hands of the mortgage company. Now it has unresolved liens because a previous buyer skipped town with major cash from a renovation loan, no renovations even having been started. Now the house is bundled with dozens of other vacant properties in a single potential sale to investors (translation: "slum lords") who presumably will simply sit on the properties, leaving them blighted, until some major developer wants to buy up whole blocks for some unknown purpose in the distant future.

Still, you'd think that someone would want to break up this logjam, to cut financial losses and to get redevelopment moving wherever it can take place. Better to get something for this property than something less, like nothing. But no. Such common sense is uncommon in the world of Cincinnati real estate, it seems.

Whatever the city is doing to encourage improvements in older, troubled neighborhoods, it needs to do something effective to allow people who really, really want to live in their own houses in those neighborhoods to do it, not least when those same people are working every day to make the city a much better place than it is.


JB in CA said...

I agree, but it sounds to me as though you're encouraging city government to take the lead here by straightening out a mess that arose through market dynamics and that the market alone can't seem to resolve to your satisfaction.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

Yes, I am. Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Emerson, right?

But it's worth noting that urban housing is a market area that already most benefits or suffers, depending on the circumstances, from government involvement. I am merely asking the government to speed up what it's already doing, to actually do what it is supposed to do.

And this is city government. I'm much more in favor of such intervention at levels of government closer to the problem.

Or I can frame this historically. The Republican Party began on the platform of free people (abolition of slavery) and free land (the Homestead Act). I just want to continue that tradition in the contemporary urban context.

The paths of self-justification are almost inexhaustible.

JB in CA said...

Yes they are, and I know them well.

By the way, I wholeheartedly endorse your preference for government intervention at levels of government that are closer to the problem.

Anonymous said...

Be sure to buy title insurance... and a deadbolt... and a security system... and a gun. Then throw a house warming party!